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In Wake of Philly Crime Spree, DelVal Legislators Want Increased Penalties for Rioting

Soon after a Philadelphia judge dismissed charges against the former cop who shot and killed Eddie Irizarry, some people said it was time to riot on social media. That message reached enough people to inspire break-ins at Apple, Foot Locker, and other stores across the city, resulting in 119 arrests as of Friday afternoon.

The call to what police have termed “criminal opportunists” also reached the city’s suburbs. Now, some lawmakers are taking action.

At a press conference Thursday, a group of state legislators from Bucks County announced a bill to increase the penalties for rioting.

“While recognizing that peaceful protests are one of our fundamental rights, the line between peaceful assembly and violent rioting has been crossed,” said Rep. Shelby Labs (R-Bedminster).

The bill would “increase the felony grading for out-of-state individuals who aid and perpetuate violent rioting, as well as citizens who knowingly participate in assisting or recruiting rioters,” she said.

The bill includes rioters who assault or throw projectiles at police, law enforcement, and first responders and would face felony charges. Out-of-state actors who incite riots would also face felony charges. Pennsylvania residents who knowingly assist in coordinating or recruiting out-of-staters to cause a riot would also face felony charges.

“The events in Philadelphia this week are a clear example of why we need to increase the penalties for rioting,” said Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro). “A handful of agitators used the peaceful protests to burglarize stores and destroy property because they did not believe they would be arrested or face harsh penalties. We will be working together with Sen. Frank Farry to update the legislation to ensure it specifically targets these criminals, including the outsiders who encouraged this behavior.”

Some in the community are upset by suggestions that the rioters’ actions were somehow legitimized by anger over the judge’s ruling in the Irizarry shooting case. For example, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Jenice Armstrong quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in her response to the violence: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

Armstrong insisted she “does not condone rioting, not one bit.” However, she added, “rioters didn’t break into those businesses just because they wanted the latest iPad or a pair of overpriced yoga pants. Sure, some vandals saw it as a chance to create mayhem, but some were out there that night because they are angry.”

Labs told reporters Thursday, “Rioting is not a solution. It’s a destructive act that harms our communities and endangers our law enforcement. Criminals have used lawful protests to engage in lawless behavior. The best way to stop this is to increase the penalties for those committed to destroying businesses and personal property.”

Farry called out one social media influencer by name for her role in promoting the violence in Philadelphia’s streets.

“We want to ensure that those who are actually rioting are caught and charged but also those who are organizing it,” Farry said. “If anyone has seen the video that’s gone national from social media influencer ‘Meatball,’ she was essentially organizing some of the looting that was going on in Philadelphia and directing those actions.

“We need to ensure the people who are organizing this chaos, destroying our businesses, scaring our citizens, putting our law enforcement in harm’s way and tying up their resources, serve a significant amount of time in jail for such crimes,” Farry said.

“Meatball,” aka Dayjia Blackwell, 21, was arrested Thursday on charges of conspiracy, burglary, and rioting for the crime spree she caught — and allegedly promoted — on her social media livestream.

“I regret it,” Blackwell told a local TV station after she was bailed out of jail. “I just prefer, you know, never loot again, stay out of trouble, never go to jail,”

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PA Business Groups, GOP Still Pushing Back Against Wolf’s RGGI Move

Pennsylvania may now be in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, but Republican politicians are not giving up their opposition to the cap-and-trade system.

“We stand by our position that entering an interstate compact and imposing a carbon tax on Pennsylvanians requires legislative approval–not unilateral action by the governor,” state  Sens. Jake Corman (R-Centre/Juniata/Mifflin), Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland), Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), and Gene Yaw (R-Bradford/Lycoming/Sullivan/Susquehanna/Union) told Delaware Valley Journal. “Although we are disappointed in this temporary setback, we will continue to press our argument to the court that the administration cannot legally take further steps to join RGGI.”

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a carbon cap-and-trade program among mostly-blue northeastern states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.

The battle began in October 2019 when Gov. Tom Wolf (D) took executive action instructing the Pennsylvania Department of Protection (DEP) to join the RGGI. Wolf said that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat climate change, and generate economic growth.

“Climate change is the most critical environmental threat confronting the world, and power generation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Wolf. “Given the urgency of the climate crisis facing Pennsylvania and the entire planet, the commonwealth must continue to take concrete, economically sound, and immediate steps to reduce emissions, (so) joining RGGI will give us that opportunity to better protect the health and safety of our citizens.”

Wolf took to Twitter to celebrate Pennsylvania’s entrance into RGGI.

“It’s official,” said Wolf. “I’m proud Pennsylvania is on the path to becoming a leader in the fight against climate change through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.”

Penn Future President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo applauded the move.

“Finalizing this transformative climate policy is a victory for all of Pennsylvania and future generations,” Bonomo said in an article on “Pennsylvania is responsible for 4 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and 1 percent of global emissions. This cap-and-invest program will deeply cut into Pennsylvania’s pollution by limiting what comes from our dirtiest power plants.”

Gordon Tomb, senior fellow for the Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation, said he believes RGGI will do more harm than good.

“Gov. Wolf has acted consistently against the interests of working Pennsylvanians, whether it is his attempt to impose a 30 percent tax on Pennsylvania’s electricity bills, his arbitrary closures of businesses during the pandemic, or his siding with special interests opposing education choice,” Tomb told Delaware Valley Journal. “RGGI will raise taxes on Pennsylvania consumers during runaway inflation and produce no environmental benefit.”

Pittsburgh Works Together, a cooperative venture of business and labor, also sees problems.

“It’s very unfortunate that we have reached this point as DEP’s own analysis shows that there will be virtually no change in carbon emissions in 2030 in the PJM service area as any reductions in Pennsylvania’s carbon emissions are offset by increases in neighboring non-RGGI states,” Jeff Nobers, executive director for Pittsburgh Works Together told Delaware Valley Journal. “This is by executive order, not the will of the people or consent of the legislature, and will lead to increased energy costs further hurting lower-income families, the loss of thousands of good-paying union jobs, and no meaningful reduction in emissions.”

Other groups that are opposed to Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI include National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association (PMA)

In March, Melissa Morgan of NFIB Pennsylvania told a Senate committee higher energy prices are the last thing small business owners need at this time.

“Small businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of COVID-19, and many are still struggling,” Melissa Morgan, assistant state director of NFIB Pennsylvania, told a Senate committee in late March. “Shutdown orders, a lack of workforce, supply chain disruptions, record-high inflation, and a recovering economy have devastated a sizable segment of Pennsylvania’s small businesses.”

Carl A. Marrara, PMA vice president of government affairs, warned that RGGI would cause industries to relocate.

Marrara said it is “not a stretch” to say supporting RGGI is supporting Russian and Middle Eastern global energy leadership and Chinese steel dumping. He called for a market-based approach.

RGGI could be an issue in this year’s gubernatorial election, and not just for Republicans seeking that office. Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro has also skeptical of RGGI.

“I refuse to accept the false choice between protecting jobs or protecting our planet — we must do both, and my priority will be ensuring Pennsylvania has a comprehensive climate and energy policy that will move all of us forward,” said Shapiro in an October 2021 statement.

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PA Independent Regulatory Review Commission Votes for New Charter School Rules

In a 3-2 ruling along party lines, the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) voted Monday in favor of new charter school rules championed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Wolf, a Democrat, welcomed the commission’s decision.

“These regulations are a vital step in clarifying charter schools’ responsibilities to the taxpayers who fund them,” Wolf said. “We were forced to take this path when the legislature refused to act on our comprehensive reform package. Charter schools received nearly $3 billion in publicly paid tuition this school year. Parents and taxpayers have a right to know how those resources are being used.”

However, others believe it will make it harder for parents who want to send their kids to charter schools.

Previously, the House and Senate education committees rejected the rules and sent the IRCC letters saying they opposed approval.

“Wolf once again acted unilaterally to circumvent the legislature,” said Nate Benefield, senior vice president of the

Nathan (Nate) Benefield is the Senior Vice President at the Commonwealth Foundation.

Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank. “This ‘Lone Wolf’ strategy does a disservice to Pennsylvania voters, parents, and students.”

More than 40,000 children are on a waiting list for charter schools in the Delaware Valley region, the foundation said in a press release.

In 2020–2021, more than 170,000 students attended charter schools—an increase of almost 23,000.

Pennsylvania’s charter schools are public schools open to all students. And while charter schools serve more low-income and minority students than traditional district schools, they receive, on average, 25 percent less funding, the foundation said.

“Our governor hasn’t set foot in a charter school in seven years but insists that he knows what’s best,” said Benefield. “Instead of trying to stifle choice for families by unilaterally designing a bureaucratic labyrinth, Wolf should work with the legislature to empower parents and provide more education opportunities for every child in the commonwealth.”

Meanwhile, a study from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools showed Pennsylvania charter school enrollment rose 15.5 percent from 2020 to 2021 as public school enrollment dropped by 3.2 percent. Statewide, the number of charter school students grew to 169,252 pupils.

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools said the IRRC decision would hurt students.

“This regulation could result in numerous harms,” including lowered charter school tuitions, negatively impact minority operated and run charter schools, and increase the already “ballooning” waiting list,” the group said in a press release.

“Overall, the regulation could reduce educational choice options for Pennsylvania students, including the most vulnerable of minority and economically disadvantaged students. Public charter schools kept teaching our scholars during the pandemic, and recent enrollment numbers show that more and more parents are choosing charter schools.”

Jennifer Arevalo, CEO of Souderton Charter School Collaborative

The coalition slammed Wolf for reducing the money going to charter schools by $373 million in his budget request, noting that charter schools already get 25 percent less state funding than other public schools receive.

Jennifer Arevalo, CEO of the Souderton Charter School Collaborative said, “The new regulation would harm charter schools and charter students in the following two ways. The regulation will place additional requirements on new charter school applicants that extend beyond Charter School Law. While promoting a standard application, it does not limit districts from asking for more information from the applicants.

“The regulation does not resolve the redirection issue where some districts simply do not provide tuition for students who attend charter schools. This places charter schools in a precarious position of not being able to pay their bills. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) should make districts comply with school law.”

The Wolf administration listed the regulatory changes in its statement about the approval: “Provide clear application requirements for entities seeking to open a charter school, regional charter school, and cyber charter school; ensure that all Pennsylvania students are able to access charter schools; clarify the ethics requirements for charter and cyber charter school trustees; require school districts and charter schools to follow the same fiscal management and auditing standards; streamline the process for charter schools to request tuition payments from school districts and the state; and provide a consistent, common-sense method for charter schools to meet the employee health care requirements in state law.”

Those rules must still go to the state legislature for passage or revision and then to Wolf for his signature or veto.

There are 179 charter schools and cyber charter schools operating in Pennsylvania this school year. All 67 counties in Pennsylvania have students enrolled in some form of charter school.

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MOONEY: Free Speech Suit against Teacher’s Union Could Boost Labor Reform

A Pennsylvania court may strike down a labor law that is clearly unconstitutional, but elected officials shouldn’t wait on the legal system to rectify state law with Supreme Court precedent, the lead sponsor of pending legislation said in an interview.

Since the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas is now expected to rule on the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s “fair share fee” law, state Rep. Kate Klunk, a York County Republican, sees an opportunity for her colleagues in both parties to “end the confusion” without delay. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that under the First Amendment government workers who are not union members cannot be forced to pay union fees.

The decision affected about 5 million workers in 22 states including Pennsylvania. But Klunk is concerned that too many public employees remain largely unaware of their rights despite the Supreme Court ruling. That’s why she’s sponsoring HB 2042, which would require public employers to notify nonunion members and new employees that they do not need to make financial contributions to a union as a condition of their employment.

“In my conversations with teachers and municipal employees, they are primarily concerned about doing their job whether it’s in the classroom or in another setting and they are not well versed with employment law,” Klunk observed. “Sometimes they don’t understand what they are signing, and they don’t have someone sitting there with them to go through the process.”

The first notification of employee rights would be sent out 30 days after Klunk’s bill becomes effective. From that point forward, notifications would be sent out annually every January. Klunk’s bill would also repeal the “fair share fee” law that is no longer enforceable after the Janus decision.

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court directed the Lancaster Court of Common Pleas to evaluate constitutional claims made against Pennsylvania labor laws that now conflict with federal law. A Lancaster judge had previously ruled that a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania State Education Association was moot after the union agreed to stop collecting fees from nonmembers.

“The courts want this issue of fair share fees settled,” Klunk said. “But we can do this much quicker legislatively, and we can do it in a matter of two to three weeks. I’d say we have all the more reason to do it now that this case has been kicked back to the Lancaster court. These cases are going to continue to play out until there’s some kind of finality. My bill strikes fair share fees from the books so they cannot be included in future contracts. We can end the confusion.”

The PSEA, the largest public employee union in the state, and its affiliates have inserted fee provisions into at least 20 collective bargaining agreements signed since the Janus decision, according to the Fairness Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm based in Harrisburg.

“The Supreme Court made clear in 2018 that public employee unions cannot force nonmembers to pay a union,” Nathan McGrath, president of the Fairness Center, said in a press statement. “But Pennsylvania law still says unions can do just that. And almost four years after Janus, PSEA and its affiliates have continued to write illegal fair share fee provisions into teachers’ collective bargaining agreements. Our clients want to force PSEA to respect the Supreme Court ruling.”

The Fairness Center represents retired Chester County teacher Jane Ladley and Lancaster County teacher Chris Meier in litigation they filed against the PSEA more than seven years ago. Both teachers raised religious objections toward paying the union. They also both had a right to send their fees to a charity rather than a union. But the PSEA rejected their charities of choice. After the Janus ruling, the union agreed to return the money to the teachers. But Ladley and Meier continue to seek definitive court action that would strike down the fair share fee law. The Lancaster court could potentially deliver that ruling.

On Tuesday, Klunk’s bill was among four of the labor reform bills the committee approved, which means they are all eligible for a full vote in the House. One of the other bills (HB 844) would protect the privacy of public employees so their personal information like their Social Security numbers, addresses, and phone numbers cannot be shared in the collective bargaining process. Another bill (HB 845) calls for greater transparency in the collective bargaining process while another (HB 2048), known as paycheck protection, prevents public employers from deducting political action committee (PAC) contributions from public employees’ wages using public payroll systems.

Nathan Benefield, senior vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation, offered the following comments:

“Pennsylvania should not have unconstitutional laws on its books. Nor should we use taxpayer-funded payroll systems to collect campaign cash. Correcting these problems will empower public employees and help ensure fairness in government. It’s encouraging to see House lawmakers moving to protect employees’ private data and shine the light of transparency on deals that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”


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